William Fanaghan Lynch (1893-1923) was an Irish clerk and revolutionary. He was born on 9 November 1983 in Barnagurraha, co. Limerick, the fifth of seven children of Jeremiah Lynch (1845-1914) and his wife, Mary Kelly, on their farm. Liam, as he was commonly known, attended school in Anglesboro and always remained deeply attached to his family and home. In 1910, however, he began an apprenticeship in a hardware shop in Mitchelstown, north Cork. After completing his three years he found permanent employment as a clerk in Fermoy.
War of Independence
Lynch had been a partisan of the Irish Parliamentary Party and joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish National Volunteers. He was amongst the more nativist elements of the party at that time, being a member of the Gaelic League also. Like many young men of his time, the Easter Rising of 1916 had a profound effect on him, especially with the sight of the rebel Kent brothers being marched through Fermoy as prisoners in the wake of the Easter Rising. Lynch embraced the Republican cause with a quasi-religious devotion, again, not uncommon to the new generation of Republicans following the Easter Rising. He helped reorganise the Irish volunteers in Fermoy in 1917 and was elected as an officer of the company. Lynch was tall, bespectacled and extremely shy, having a ‘priestly’ manner and lacked in leadership skills. It was by the strength of his devotion to his cause and his convictions by which people came to respect him as a leader. He became the adjutant of the Fermoy battalion later in 1917, spent much of 1918 as a full time organiser, and was elected the first commander of the 2nd Cork brigade in January 1919.
Although eager for direct action Lynch dutifully waited for permission from general headquarters to launch his first attack. This came in September 1919 when he led an ambush of a military party in Fermoy. The guerrillas succeeded in capturing the rifles but Lynch was wounded in the shoulder. Forced to go on the run to recuperate, he left his old job behind for good. At this point Lynch held an overly optimistic view of the Irish republic being a mere eighteen months away. He held this optimism until his death, refusing to compromise before or during his participation in the civil war for anything less than a fully independent Irish republic. Most of his time was spent in a succession of farmhouse headquarters, punctuated by visits home and to Dublin. Here he came to known Seán Tracey, Michael Collins and other leaders of the revolution such as Richard Mulcahy. Lynch turned down the job of deputy chief of staff to return in March 1920 to Cork, where he became the de facto governor of his brigade area, dealing with crime, labour and trade disputes. He also took part in a series of famous episodes, including the kidnapping of General Lucas, his British opposite number, in June. After October 1920, his fighting career took second place to organisational work. The inter-brigade conferences he hosted helped pave the way for the establishment in April 1921 of the 1st southern division, incorporating co. Cork, co. Kerry, co. Waterford, and part of co. Limerick. Lynch was its founding commander, thereby trading a position of active authority for one with vague duties and almost no staff.
The truce of 1921 allowed Lynch to create a proper divisional apparatus, the most powerful in Ireland. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December gave it a new political purpose. He opposed the agreement but he was equally committed to Republican conciliation. Thus, after rejecting the authority of the pro-treaty general headquarters in January 1922, he spent the following months negotiating with all factions to preserve a united front and stave off civil war. The object of Lynch’s efforts was an Irish Republican Army (IRA) convention, which would consider the anti-treaty resolutions. The new provisional government ultimately banned the meeting. The Republicans met regardless, voted Lynch to the top of the executive slate, and appointed him chief of staff.
Lynch had already defused a local and potentially dangerous crisis in Limerick (Where pro-treaty Clare IRA occupied strategic points in the city, ousting the anti-treaty Limerick IRA), and now set about mending the split IRA ranks. After much haggling he was able to strike a deal for shared authority within an effectively independent army. This new constitution was overtaken by events, however –chiefly the general election, which produced a pro-treaty majority – and was defeated in convention in June 1922. Lynch found himself in a minority within a divided IRA.
Republican unity came with the provisional government’s attack on the IRA executive’s Dublin stronghold at the Four Courts and O’Connell Street on 28 June. Lynch returned to Munster to establish a war headquarters, Munster being the most sympathetic province in the country towards the anti-treaty IRA. He continued to seek peace through negotiation, but the opposing national army had seized the initiative and pressed home its advantage. By August 1922 the IRA had been forced underground once again.
Once his own efforts had failed Lynch forbade any further attempts at a truce and warded off Eamon de Valera’s attempts at political guidance, holding politics in general with contempt. He remained firm in his belief in ultimate victory, even while his forces were decimated over the winter of 1922-23. His hopes increasingly relied on secret schemes which came to nothing, and he came under mounting pressure to convene a meeting of the army executive. He had moved his headquarters to Dublin in November 1922, but returned to Cork in February 1923 to meet the dissidents in his old division. The long postponed executive conclave was finally held on 23 March, and Lynch found himself once again in a minority. Before the ‘peace’ issue could be resolved, Lynch’s Tipperary hideout was discovered by Free State troops on 10 April 1923. He was shot in a firefight as he tried to escape, and died that day in captivity in Clonmel. He was buried in Kilcrumper graveyard, outside Mitchelstown, on 15 April.